Hosteling 101: When You Get Sick

At first, it was just a tickle in the back of my throat.  Then, it seemed a mild case of Australia Simplex.  However, within four or five days I realized I was really sick.  It may have just been the common cold, maybe it was a flu, but there I was, halfway around the world, with green snot running out of my nose and lungs that kept trying to eject that slime they used to pour on Alanis Morissette on “You Can’t Do That on Television”.  My insurance company wasn’t exactly going to fly me home because I hadn’t used enough hand sanitizer, so I was on my own.  Here are some tips to maximize enjoyment of your holiday and minimize annoyance of others when you get sick while hosteling.

  1. Buy all the medication!  Seriously, there is some weird shit available at foreign pharmacies.  And it’s cheap!  Go to the pharmacy, dramatically re-enact your symptoms, and buy everything they suggest.  (This is only recommended for people without pre-existing serious medical conditions!)
  2. Google all the medication!  Once you’ve got some cheap pills, Google them before you take them.  There are many medications available in developing countries that are not approved for human use in most of the developed world.  Quickly check our your new meds online before you start taking them.  If you’re not familiar with the active ingredients, check to see if there are side effects you should be aware of.  One of the cold medications I was given in Eastern Europe this summer was known to cause foot-long, blistering burns on the skin of some patients.  Be aware!
  3. Stock up on all the medication!  If you find a medication abroad that works for you, stock up for home use.  I have an unnatural love of Couldina, a Spanish cold medication similar to Alka-Seltzer Plus (which is not available in my home country).  I found a similar formula in Latin America’s Tabcin, and always make sure to stock up when I can.  For the love of God, Bayer, bring this stuff to Canada!
  4. Take all the medication!  Find medication that reduces or eliminates your annoying symptoms, like coughing and sniffling.  You owe it to the people around you.
  5. Fresh air and exercise.  This was always my mom’s advice to me when I was feeling sick as a child.  “Stop playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and go outside!”  In a hostel environment this is especially important.  Your dormmates deserve a break from you and your sickness, and wallowing in your own germs isn’t going to make anything better.  Feel free to take it easy, but get out there and do something.  You don’t have to go ahead with your Kilimanjaro climb, but it won’t kill you to take the bus into town and visit a museum or park with lots of comfy places to sit and relax.
  6. Look after your health.  In addition to going outside and moving around, stay hydrated and make some positive eating choices.  Now is not the time to challenge those frat boys to a beer bong showdown.
  7. Know when to throw in the towel.  By throw in the towel I don’t mean go home, I just mean get out of the dorm room.  A private hostel room, or even a budget hotel room, might be more expensive than your dorm, but there comes a point where you owe others a decent night’s sleep.  You might also owe yourself a decent night’s sleep!  When budgeting for a trip I strongly, strongly encourage you put aside enough money to spend a couple of nights in private accommodation if need be.

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